Another 2021 Unemployment Update: The American Rescue Plan Act and Beyond

While Wisconsinites are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel, its wake leaves many still suffering economic hardships. The good news is our administration recognizes this strain on everyday workers and continues to provide some relief to those most affected, including through unemployment financial assistance. But, for better or for worse, there are signs that unemployment administrative procedures are returning to pre-pandemic normalcy in Wisconsin.

Federal Unemployment Program Changes

As discussed in Continued Assistance Act Extends and Changes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the Continued Assistance Act of 2020 (CAA) was enacted on December 27, 2020. This Act extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) and other parts of the part of the CARES Act beyond the original end date of December 26, 2020, added a new benefits program, and made a few other changes. Some provisions of the CAA, including extension of PUA and other federal CARES Act unemployment benefits, were set to expire on March 13, 2021.

However, in light of continued economic distress, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) was signed on March 11, 2021. The Act provided for an additional round of $1,400 Economic Impact Payments (“stimulus checks”) to eligible individuals, and further extends a number of pandemic-related federal aid programs, including unemployment. Of primary interest to Wisconsinites who remain unemployed or with decreased hours, the ARPA extends PUA, PEUC, FPUC, and MEUC to September 6, 2021.

To recap, PUA is the temporary federal program that now provides up to a total of 73 weeks of benefits for individuals who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits and are unable to work (or unable to work as many hours) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, until September 6, 2021.
• PEUC now extends exhausted weekly benefits for recipients of regular unemployment for up to an additional 53 weeks until September 6, 2021.
• FPUC provides an additional $300 per week to recipients of any unemployment benefits, regular or pandemic, now for all weeks until September 6, 2021.
• MEUC, which was a new program created in January by the CAA, provides an extra $100 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits to self-employed benefit recipients, now until September 6, 2021.

For additional details about these programs, read “Continued Assistance Act Extends and Changes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.”

Changes to Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits Eligibility

While the ARPA recognizes continued strain left in the wake of COVID-19, the Wisconsin legislature also sees a light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Traditionally, a critical part of being eligible for Wisconsin unemployment benefits was demonstrating that a claimant was actively searching for work. As a result of COVID-19, this “work search” requirement was suspended. But as of May 23, 2021, claimants for regular unemployment benefits are again required to make four work search contacts per week for which they claim benefits.

As of the date of this post, the official statement from DWD is that claimants receiving PUA benefits or who are not completely unemployed, just working reduced hours, will not be subject to the work search requirement.

How Wisconsin Unemployment Recipients Should Adjust

As the work search requirement is reinstated, it is best to follow this general guidance:
• If you are receiving unemployment benefits, you must register with the Wisconsin Job Service and complete at least 4 search actions weekly, unless the DWD provides a waiver.
• Document your work search actions for each week that you claim benefits; the documentation must be detailed enough to be verified by the DWD.
• Keep the documented proof of your work search actions for 52 weeks; the DWD may request proof of you work search actions at any time.
• You can document your search actions throughout the current week using the online Weekly Work Search Entry Form. Note that if you use this method, you still need to file a weekly claim. Once you do, the DWD will automatically associate your Work Search Entry Form with your weekly claim certification.
• Alternatively, you can enter your weekly work search actions at the time you file your weekly claim certification.
• If you are currently not required to perform work searches (i.e, receiving PUA or have a waiver) and those circumstances change, you will be required to do job searches, possibly including for weeks that have already passed.
• If you are ever unable to submit a weekly claim certification for the week (i.e, your PUA benefits are on a routine hold to investigate whether you are now eligible for regular unemployment benefits), you are not excused from work search and should still perform and document at least four searches.
• For more about waivers, what constitutes a valid work search action, acceptable proof of search action, and other information, visit Work Search FAQ.

If you have questions about your unemployment situation, contact our experienced employment attorneys at Hawks Quindel’s Madison or Milwaukee offices for a consultation. We understand that the pandemic presented unprecedented difficulties for many Wisconsin families and are standing by to help.

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Natalie Gerloff